They sometimes depict an evil force or entity that you simply can’t vanquish, but horror movies can be just as unrelenting as their malevolent antagonists when it comes to reboots, revivals, and reimaginings. John Carpenter’s Halloween is the most recent big-screen example of this, releasing to critical acclaim bolstered by substantial box office takings.
Once grounds for outrage from a subset of horror fans, recently, revisiting horror classics seems to have become more acceptable — last year’s Leatherface wasn’t universally hated, while Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead remake surprised audiences when they realised it didn’t suck, and TV’s The Exorcist garnered praise for its two-season run. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had just as many original horror ideas achieve breakout success in recent years, allowing us to soften our judgement when news comes of another horror reboot. Or perhaps it’s because reboots are now more common in other genres — the superhero film, for instance — meaning we’re generally more accepting of them in the movie/TV landscape. Then again, maybe it’s because revisiting an older property these days has an arguably better strike rate than remakes used to. Or maybe it’s a combination of all those factors.
Whatever, when it comes to rebooting pre-existing horror franchises, for Hollywood it seems to be more of a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. After all, the scrappy slashers and creature features produced between the 1950s and the late 1980s still hold a lot of nostalgia – a factor that proves too lucrative for studios to let them stay dormant. It’s with this in mind that we thought we’d state our case for the next horror film we feel is primed for a reboot; another John Carpenter classic — 1982’s The Thing.
The Central Creature Has Limitless Potential
Don’t get us wrong. We love the movie, which itself was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World. But the core conceit presented by Bill Lancaster’s screenplay itself – based on John W. Campbell Jr’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? – deserves an update to be afforded the privilege to scare new generations of horror fans via a contemporary approach. And we’d start with revamping the creature.
One of the most compelling — and unique — aspects The Thing has going for it is its enigmatic antagonist. The Thing — an unknown alien force — is, as its name suggests, literally indescribable. The monstrous being is shapeless, sly, and can take on the shape of any living thing that it touches. Convenient (what a way to get around the limitations of a low budget), but also clever when you think about it.
You see, installing a chameleonic being in the antagonist role helps to build the tension, since we, the audience — like the characters — also aren’t always privy to knowing what shape it’s taken, and it makes the pay-off when we do eventually clap eyes on its true form even more rewarding. A recent example of a horror film adopting this approach is It Follows. In that film, a group of teens is relentlessly tailed by a supernatural force following a sexual encounter with the previous person the mysterious entity has been pursuing. It Follows was a critical and commercial success, and owes a huge debt to The Thing. But where The Thing triumphs is that we do eventually get to see the alien’s crazy form(s).
With today’s advancements in tech, it’d be easy to blend practical, flashy creature effects with imaginative CG concepts. All of which could come together to create something new and terrifying for today’s audiences. The 2011 prequel movie to the 1982 original (also called The Thing) gave a taste of this, but an over-reliance on jump scares and a more action-orientated approach diminished it and made it feel cheap; lesser. A reboot should grab the opportunity to utilise 2018 advancements firmly with two hands and generate some real creativity when it comes to realising the creature on screen. The Thing can be anything – and that’s every effects artist’s dream!
A Sign of the Times
Part of the reason John Carpenter’s The Thing is so celebrated today is because of how indicative it is of the time it was shot. The movie’s underlying sense of anxiety and themes of distrust can be interpreted as a metaphor for the real-world tensions between America and Russia during the final, quieter years of The Cold War. Similar comparisons would be drawn for the 1986 action classic Aliens, directed by James Cameron, in which the colonial marines’ futile efforts against the xenomorphs are akin to America’s actions against the Vietcong during the Vietnam war.
Of course, with a reboot, it wouldn’t make sense to evoke these same exact international tensions, but there could be an opportunity to draw inspiration from present-day social fears – especially surrounding the leaps made with technology. Many movies have tried — and failed — to do this, hitting the subject matter too on the nose. A reboot of The Thing could prove the perfect conduit. And if the utterly brilliant The Babadook can be considered an allegory for depression, the unknown motivations of the Thing can be interpreted as something deeper, and socially relevant, too.
The Ultimate Isolated Setting
The 2011 prequel to The Thing maintained the sense of isolation garnered from having its protagonists cut off within the icy bowels of the cold Antarctic. That didn’t stop it from fleshing out some grossly unnecessary backstory for the creature, however, by way of the film’s heroes discovering the crashed alien craft nearby – somewhat ruining the sense of mystery. The isolated setting could still be kept for a refreshed reboot, but we’re not being too slavish, so why not swap the cold for, say, a mansion in the middle of nowhere or an underground fallout shelter?
Horrors these days often feel the need to expand their scope, taking place over a range of days across a myriad of spaces and locations. But acclaimed TV series The Terror recently let its unearthly horror very effectively unfold on a ship. The isolated setting trope has been more frequently adopted by psychological thrillers, rather than horror, in latter years. As the entire idea behind The Thing rides the line between both horror and sci-fi thriller, it would make sense to keep our hero(es) remote in their fight against the eponymous being – and it’d be more interesting to do it under different circumstances than the John Carpenter original not only to set it apart while retaining the horror and thrills of the original, but also to bring it bang up to date.